As the country marks the 119th anniversary of Emilio Aguinaldo’s declaration of Philippine independence on 12 June 1898, it is perhaps timely to look back and reflect on the country’s record of economic progress since that day.
Playing an important role in the country’s growth and development are the enterprises that grew or made the goods consumed by Filipinos as well as exported abroad, built some of the infrastructure and set up essential services that laid down the foundation for future progress.
Remarkably, a number of today’s major corporations trace their origins to ventures established long before the Aguinaldo-led revolutionary government declared Philippine independence from Spain in 1898. Surviving revolutions, foreign occupations, two world wars and a string of domestic political upheavals, these businesses embody the essence of Filipino resilience in the face of adversity.
In 1998, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) came up with a list of so-called “centennial businesses” that have been in existence for at least a hundred years since 1898. Below are brief profiles of most of the companies in the DTI list that are still actively operating.
1. Ayala Corporation (1834)
Ayala Corporation is the oldest and one of the biggest family-run diversified conglomerates in the Philippines. It was founded in 1834 as “Ayala y Compañia,” a partnership between landowner and entrepreneur Domingo Roxas and his young industrial partner Antonio de Ayala. The company primarily engaged in agribusiness.
One of Ayala’s daughters later on married Jacobo Zobel Zangroniz, adding the equally prestigious Zobel name to the company administration. Today, Ayala Corporation is led by Jaime Zobel de Ayala, its seventh-generation chairman emeritus. It is currently the third most valuable publicly listed holding firm, with 11 subsidiaries and affiliates in property development, banking, telecommunications, services and infrastructure, among others.
2. Bank of the Philippine Islands (1851)
Known as the first private commercial bank in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia, the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) was founded on August 1, 1851 with the Hispanic name Banco-Español Filipino de Isabel II. It started commercial operations the year after, with only 20 employees and Php400,000 in capital stock.
Owned and managed by the Ayala group, one of the Philippines’ biggest diversified conglomerates, BPI is now the second most valuable financial listed firm in the country and the third biggest bank in terms of assets with Php1.7 trillion as of the first quarter of 2017. According to the company's website, it now has 800 branches in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Europe, and close to 3,000 ATMs and cash deposit machines.
3. Destileria Limtuaco & Co. Inc. (1852)
Destileria Limtuaco is the oldest distillery in the Philippines, established by a Chinese merchant and immigrant named Lim Tua Co in 1852. He was known to brew medicinal wine, which later on became widely known as “sioktong.”
Today, aside from herbal wine, Destileria Limtuaco’s products have expanded into 11 other categories: whisky, brandy, sangria, craft spirits, gin, cordial and syrups, rum, tequila, vodka, ready-to-drink and wine. The distillery today is headed by Olivia Limpe-Aw, Lim Tua Co’s fifth-generation descendant. She is also the first woman to take over the liquor company.
4. Tanduay Distillers Inc. (1854)
The origins of Tanduay Distillers can be traced to an unnamed distillery in Hagonoy, Bulacan. The international liquor brand has gone through different ownerships over the years, but eventually ended under the Elizalde family in 1920.
Elizalde & Company Inc. was formed in the 1930s, and the distiller’s name was changed to Tanduay Distillery Inc. It was during this time when Tanduay started manufacturing rum not only domestically but also internationally.
In 1984, Lucio Tan, then a leading cigarette maker, bought Tanduay Distillery from the Elizaldes, marking one of the biggest corporate transfers at the time. It was renamed Tanduay Distillers Inc., which also manufactures gin, vodka, whiskey, brandy and alcomix products apart from rum.
5. Standard Chartered Bank (1872)
Established in 1872, Standard Chartered Bank is the first foreign bank to enter the Philippines and the second oldest overall, following BPI. It is a subsidiary of Standard Chartered PLC, a multinational banking and financial services company based in London, United Kingdom.
Standard Chartered weathered two world wars by maintaining its position instead of venturing into expansion. Today, it is the sixth biggest foreign bank in the country by assets and 24th overall as of the first quarter of 2017. It has a total of Php59 billion in its portfolio.
6. Hong Kong Bank (1875)
Almost as soon as the Hong Kong Bank was founded in 1865, it immediately came to the Philippines to do business. However, the bank didn’t open its first branch in Manila until 10 years later. Its main business back then was bankrolling the agriculture trade industry, particularly sugar, hemp, coffee, rice and copra.
Now more commonly known as The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC), it is currently the second biggest foreign bank and 14th overall in the Philippines, with an asset size of Php189 billion. The international financial services company has around 4,000 offices in 70 countries worldwide.
7. San Miguel Corporation (1890)
San Miguel Corporation started from a single brewery in 1890. It was the first brewery in Southeast Asia, formerly known as La Fabrica de Cerveza de San Miguel, which referred to a Manila district near Malacañan, then the residence of the Spanish governor-general.
Today, SMC is one of the country’s largest diversified conglomerates. Led by Eduardo M. Cojuangco Jr. as CEO and Ramon Ang as president and COO, SMC is currently the 10th most valuable publicly listed holding firm in the country. It already has 16 subsidiaries that do business related to beverages, food, packaging, oil refining and marketing, power and energy, infrastructure and others.
8. Compañia General de Tabacos de Filipinas or Tabacalera (1881)
Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas, also known simply as “The Tabacalera” or “Tabacalera Incorporada,” is the oldest private cigar manufacturer in the country.
After the tobacco monopoly by the Spanish government was abolished by a decree in 1881, Tabacalera, which was incorporated in Barcelona, Spain, was established in the Philippines to take over the Spanish government’s production of tobacco products.
The cigar manufacturer eventually ventured into other businesses during the American occupation and after the Second World War, such as paper and cardboard production and insurance management. Today, however, it is sticking to its original business, which is the manufacturing and sale of tobacco products.
9. Manila Times (1898)
The Manila Times is the oldest existing newspaper in the Philippines published in the English language. The first issue was published in October 1898. It was a 12-by-8 inches, four-page issue with each page divided into two columns. An Englishman named Thomas Gowan published the maiden issue.
The paper had to shut down during World War II. It was revived 15 years later, with the name The Sunday Times, only to shut down again after the late president Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and established a dictatorship in 1972. It reopened once more on February 1986. The paper was then bought by a series of owners, including John Gokongwei Jr., Mark Jimenez and eventually Dante Ang, the current chairman emeritus of the publishing company.
Corporate Profiles 1984-1985, Corporate Profiles 1987 by Business Day Corporation and official websites of the listed companies
Pauline Macaraeg is Entrepreneur PH's data journalist. Follow her on Twitter @paulinemacaraeg